Switzerland has followed in the footsteps of other European countries by legalizing cannabis for medical purposes, after the country’s Medical Council amended the Swiss Narcotics Act approved by parliament in March 2021.
New laws, which came into place from August 1st, 2022, now enable patients to obtain medical cannabis via a prescription.
As well as opening the door for patients to access cannabis medicine, companies authorized by Swissmedic, the national authorisation and supervisory authority for drugs and medical products, are permitted to export medical cannabis for commercial purposes.
Prior to the most recent legislative change, Swiss patients seeking medical cannabis were forced to lodge a request to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).
The Swiss Federal Council proclaimed that “up to now, cannabis for medicinal purposes has not been allowed to be cultivated, imported or processed into preparations without an exceptional permit. Treatment of patients with cannabis medicinal products that were exempt from authorization was only possible with an exceptional permit from the BAG and only in justified cases.”
Citing increased demand for cannabis medicine, and the corresponding administrative burden of the previous system of patient approval, the Council’s statement continued by saying that “the demand for such permits has increased in recent years. This is administratively complex, delays treatment and no longer corresponds to the exceptional character provided for by the Narcotics Act.
“The Federal Council has therefore presented Parliament with an amendment to the law to remove the ban on cannabis for medical purposes, which was passed in March 2021. A narcotic prescription will still be required for such drugs.”
Whilst barriers to accessing cannabis medicine have been significantly lowered for patients in Switzerland, those seeking medical cannabis will still have to bankroll their prescription.
The Federal Council explicitly stated that “The amendment to the law does not change the requirements for reimbursement of cannabis medicinal products through compulsory health insurance. These are currently only remunerated in exceptional cases.”
This may change in the future but, for the time being, the “available evidence on the effectiveness and usefulness of cannabis medicinal products is currently insufficient for general reimbursement.”
Is Recreational Cannabis Legal in Switzerland?
No. The Federal Council outlined in their statement that, whilst medical cannabis is now permitted, “the sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes, however, remains prohibited.”
However, the country has shown willingness to evaluate the benefits and pitfalls of a legal adult-use market. The health office estimates that there are approximately 220,000 cannabis users in Switzerland, and with neighbouring country Germany seemingly on the precipice of legalizing recreational cannabis, Switzerland is keen to explore the impacts of changing regulations.
According to swissinfo.ch, “the Federal Office of Public Health said it had approved a request for a pilot on the regulated sale of cannabis through local pharmacies. It will be restricted to just under 400 participants over the age 18 as part of a joint project by the University of Basel, its psychiatric clinics and the cantonal health department.
The trial, due to begin in September, is intended to help evaluate the effects of new regulations on the recreational use of cannabis and ultimately combat black market distribution, the office said on Tuesday.
Several other local authorities, including Zurich, Geneva and Bern, have also applied to roll out similar trials. The Swiss parliament laid the legal basis for such small-scale initiatives in September 2020.”
The Economic Impact of Legal Cannabis in Switzerland
According to research undertaken by the University of Geneva, a legal cannabis market in Switzerland would have a positive impact on the economy and employment.
It is estimated that the annual turnover pertaining to legal cannabis in Switzerland would be over $1 billion annually.
This would equate to approximately 0.06% of the country’s GDP; comparatively, “the closest industries in Switzerland with similar value added are water supply which is slightly smaller at 0.04% or the production of cars and car parts, which is slightly larger at 0.08%.”
The positive uplift for employment is also thought to be substantial, projected to create over 4,400 full-time jobs within the country.
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